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Monitoring Marine Mammals

Sikumiut Environmental Management Ltd. (Sikumiut), an Inuit-owned business registered in Newfoundland and Labrador, is collaborating with LOOKNorth to demonstrate the use of advanced remote sensing technology to help ships detect and avoid marine mammals when navigating Canada's Arctic waters.   In its 10 successful years of operation, Sikumiut has provided technical and professional support to a variety of clients in the northern natural resource development sector.

In conjunction with Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation's direct shipping project which supports the Mary River Project in northern Baffin Island, Nunavut, Sikumiut will demonstrate Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)-borne remote sensing equipment for tactical ship navigation.  Under LOOKNorth's Technology Validation Program, Sikumiut personnel trained by Seamatica AeroSpace Limited of St. John’s, NL will operate a UAV equipped with remote surveillance systems to detect, avoid, observe and record marine mammal occurrences and behavior along the planned shipping route.

Conventionally, such programs are conducted by an observer who watches for and records sightings of marine mammals to compile data on marine mammal density, distribution and behavior. This approach is difficult logistically in this remote setting. Also, the data obtained can be of inconsistent quality, since human observers need to rest and eat, and their perception is limited to what they can see from the vessel – which may be affected by a variety of factors (such as weather, sea-state, illness and fatigue).

Through this project, Sikumiut will demonstrate that a UAV can be flown from the vessel and can collect video data that is more comprehensive and of better quality than that obtained by human observers. LOOKNorth will work with Sikumiut to assist in the evaluation of the sensor data and to develop automated techniques to detect, classify and record mammals. In the short term, the work conducted in this project will demonstrate the practical use of UAVs in routine ship navigation, and in doing so will address environmental concerns about increasing vessel traffic in northern waters. In the longer term, it will ensure that Baffinland can obtain more and better baseline and monitoring data to support resource management decisions.

A key objective of work is to demonstrate that UAV-borne remote sensing technology can be adapted to work in the challenging Arctic environment. After a successful demonstration, the technology can be integrated into Baffinland’s existing monitoring program, improving understanding of the Mary River Project’s environmental effects and facilitating decisions about the effectiveness of mitigation measures. As a broader benefit, the proven UAV-borne remote sensing technology could be extended to other resource development projects and marine transportation uses.